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Interview: Sam Arthur of Nobrow and Flying Eye Books

This London publisher rejuvenates the children's book market with a collection of beautifully illustrated stories

by Gavin Lucas
on 07 June 2013
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Independent publisher Nobrow has built a solid reputation since its inception in 2008 as a purveyor of beautifully produced image-based books. Now, from its headquarters in a shopfront studio in London's Shoreditch, it has launched a new imprint, Flying Eye Books, to publish books aimed specifically at children. Here's a look at the first titles released under the new imprint, plus our interview with Nobrow and Flying Eye co-founder Sam Arthur.

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Flying Eye has already released books about monsters. What age bracket are you aiming the books at and what are you looking for when commissioning new books?

Flying Eye books are generally for children from ages three up to 11. Within that age range there are obviously different brackets, and different titles will appeal to different age groups. For example, Topsy Turvy World by Atak is entirely image-based and aimed at three to five year olds. In it, mice chase cats, penguins live in the jungle and cars fly. Our very first Flying Eye book, Welcome To Your Awesome Robot by Viviane Schwarz is for slightly older kids from ages five to seven. The idea with that book is that it acts as a guide for children and a supervising adult to create inventive cardboard robots. Another one of our titles Monsters & Legends is for an older age bracket again, as it charmingly dispels the myths behind some of the most fearsome monsters of legend.

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What about books for toddlers, is that in the cards?

We have yet to do any baby books, but we haven't ruled it out! At the heart of what we do is a desire to find great stories and also beautiful and original artwork and illustration. It sounds like a statement of the obvious really, but I suppose what makes Flying Eye different to any other children's book publisher is our particular taste.

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Tell us about this move to create a specifically child-focused catalog. Is it a natural progression now that your production and distribution credentials as Nobrow are in good order in the US, Europe and beyond?

As we've always been inspired by children's books, we really wanted to publish more of our own, but it wasn't a good business decision unless we got our marketing right. While we're confident we've created a strong brand in Nobrow, we were aware that the titles we had released—aimed at children rather than adults—weren't reaching the intended market and that was really frustrating.

When we sat down to talk about it, it became obvious that we needed a new imprint that was just for children, hence the creation of Flying Eye. We strongly believe that our brand of beautifully illustrated and wonderfully produced books has a place in the children's book market and yes, to answer your question, I think it really is every bit a natural progression for us.

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As well as working with authors and illustrators to create new titles, you're also translating children's books that have previously only been available in French. I know you guys go to Angoulême each year to the International Comics Festival–has that helped open your eyes to French illustration?

Absolutely. The French children's book market in particular is amazing and we are definitely influenced and inspired by it. The Topsy Turvy World by Atak is, in fact, a German title and we have also recently seen some great children's books published in Portugal, Poland and Italy. In other words, we're not in any way put off by borders—we are proud to publish books from around the world.

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What book either just published or in the pipeline for release are you most excited about at the moment?

I'm really excited about a book we're working on that is coming out this autumn. Professor Astro Cat's Frontiers of Space is a non-fiction book that explores the many fascinating aspects of the science and exploration of space in an accessible, fun-filled package. One of our longest standing collaborators Ben Newman is the illustrative genius behind it, along with his co-writer Dr Dominic Walliman (an ex-school buddy of Ben's and now a quantum computer mechanic who works for D-Wave, a company based in Vancouver currently contracted by NASA).

We also have some exciting new talents bringing out their first books: Emily Hughes with Wild, Jesse Hodgson with Pongo and William Grill with Shackleton's Journey. As if those weren't enough, we are working with established children's book author/illustrator David Lucas on a book entitled A Letter for Bear. Keep an eye on our website for news.

Images by Gavin Lucas

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